10 Years After 9/11, Feds Still Dropping the Ball on Security

Localities like New York City have to take matters into their own hands.

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Kelly Moore served on the staff of the 9/11 Commission and was the deputy program manager for the Terrorist Interdiction Program at the State Department. She is the co-author of 9/11 and Terrorist Travel.

The Associated Press recently ran a somewhat controversial story about the counterterrorism strategy and tactics adopted by the New York City Police Department in the aftermath of 9/11. The AP suggested that the NYPD may be a little too cozy with the CIA and appeared to call into question several other tactics, including stationing officials overseas, hanging out in neighborhoods populated by ethnic and religious groups of terrorists past, monitoring sermons at mosques, and even operating in New Jersey.

Predictably, the Justice Department launched an investigation to determine if these alleged tactics are a violation of civil liberties.

Frankly, the feds haven't given New York—the most targeted city in America—much of an alternative to going it alone.

[See photos of the 10th anniversary of 9/11]

To be sure, some federal actions, such as drone strikes, special forces raids and certain intelligence initiatives, deserve considerable credit for reducing the terrorist threat faced by the United States.

I had the tremendous honor to serve on the 9/11 Commission's border security and terrorist mobility team. But 10 years after that horrible day and seven years after the Commission issued its final report, I have not crossed off as completed any of the recommendations that we made. There are 19 pages of them. Single-spaced.

In fact, several colleagues from the 9/11 Commission, one of our CIA counterparts, and I offered all 19 pages of the recommendations--which have never fully been made public--to the Department of Homeland Security. Incredibly, they turned us down.

So it should really come as no surprise that despite new restrictions on shampoo bottles, the Transportation Security Administration cannot confirm the identities of more than half a million people carrying some sort of FAA license--which is worrying considering 27 turned up on a list of persons with terrorist ties.

Congress has not reorganized itself to provide better oversight of counterterrorism policy as the Commission recommended, though I doubt that will surprise anyone. We are still issuing the kinds of multiple entry, multiple-year visas that the hijackers relied on to gain entry to the United States 34 times over 18 months. There has been no immigration reform.

I could go on but you get my point. There is no question that important change has happened in the decade since 9/11. Americans, for one, are more aware of the terrorist threat. And as we have seen, they will foil any plot to hijack an aircraft or detonate an explosive on one.

But this passenger activism and enhanced screening is no guarantee of safety. All it does is change the nature of the threat. Instead of being a passenger on a plane, now a would-be hijacker must aim to be the pilot out of the gate. Or smart enough to take the red-eye and detonate his bomb when everyone is asleep.

[See political cartoons about air security.]

Some will say that, well, obviously we're doing something right because there hasn't been an attack on American soil in 10 years. Obviously the latter is true, but the reasons why probably have more to do with the fact that the city with the big bull's eye on its back, New York, has taken matters into its own hands (and that would-be terrorists have been preoccupied overseas).

[Read Alvin Felzenberg: Earthquake Response Shows We Haven't Learned Lessons of 9-11]

I know many dedicated feds working hard to keep all of us safe. They all complain about the same two things: a slow, inefficient bureaucracy and too much politics driving national security decisions. So long as this remains the case, cities like New York won't have much choice but to develop local capacity to deal with what is fundamentally an international terrorist threat.

If the federal government doesn't approve, they should get busy. Much may have been done but there are still (at least) 19 more pages of work to do.